Walk into the average Cypriot workplace, nightclub or coffeehouse and you'll come out smelling like an overflowing ashtray, in a country that has some of the highest levels of passive smoking in Europe.
But officials promised Thursday that from New Year's Day, when a tougher ban on indoor smoking in public places comes into effect, nonsmokers will breathe easier.
"In this new year, we're taking a big step," Health Minister Christos Patsalides said. "It is a change in the way we live, demanding a change in mindset."
In theory, indoor smoking in public areas has been banned for the past seven years in the Greek-Cypriot south of this Mediterranean island, just under a third of whose 800,000 inhabitants are regular smokers. The habit kills some 600 people a year in the south, anti-smoking campaigners say.
But low fines and lax enforcement allowed Cypriots to light up with impunity practically anywhere _ including government offices, hospital cafeterias and stores.
Justice Minister Loucas Louca warned that this time police will be tough on lawbreakers _ including establishment owners who don't stop their patrons smoking _ with fines ranging from euro34 ($49) to euro2,000 ($2,867).
A recent European Union survey showed Cyprus leading the bloc in nonsmokers' exposure to secondhand smoke at home with 31 percent and is second only to Greece in workplace exposure with 45 percent.
A Health Ministry study this year found traces of nicotine in the saliva of 97 percent of a random sample of 134 children.
The new ban covers all public enclosed spaces, including establishments long popular with smokers such as strip clubs and pool halls. Open-air spaces are exempt.
The ban applies in the Greek Cypriot south of the war-divided island. But a separate prohibition on smoking indoors in public areas will take effect simultaneously in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, where some 200,000 people live.
Details on fines and data on smokers in the north were not immediately available.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
Justice Minister Louca said the only reprieve for smokers will be during early morning New Year's Day celebrations when police don't want to be seen as party poopers.
Even nightclub and restaurant owners who vociferously opposed the ban for fear of losing custom have relented, but shy of being fined for their patrons' misdeeds.
"Something like this would create more problems to recreational establishments that have already been hit hard by the economic crisis," said owners' federation head Neophytos Thrasyvoulou.